Spitfires’ Weekly: West Split, Busy Nov, Depth Issues

Planning for a season is no easy feat for any Ontario Hockey League (OHL) coach or general manager. You have to account for injuries, suspensions, pro-league returns, and more. As the Windsor Spitfires head into a busy stretch to end November, team management has plenty on their plate and their strategic planning will be tested.

Coming into training camp, the club knew they would have a lot to sort out. With nearly a dozen new players and two new coaches, they had a lot to go over from depth to systems to line combinations. Head coach Marc Savard and GM Bill Bowler knew this wasn’t going to be a quick solution; don’t expect a smooth ride until sometime this month or even in December. However, all of that planning now comes into play as the team deals with injuries, potential depth issues, and a very busy stretch that will test their post-pandemic mental and physical endurance. It all started this past weekend with a pair of key divisional games.

Let’s break it all down…

Windsor’s Western Weekend Split

Coming into last weekend, the Spitfires sat sixth in a very tight OHL Western Conference. Gaining any ground would mean beating the Sarnia Sting on the road on Friday and the first-place Soo Greyhounds at home on Saturday. That’s a tough ask for any team.

Fortunately, on Friday, the Spitfires played lights out! They managed to outshoot the Sting in the first 20 minutes, keeping the game tied at two, before unloading in the second and third periods. The visitors scored five goals on 30 shots in the final 40 minutes, while allowing just one goal on 13 shots, for a commanding 7-3 win. Detroit Red Wings’ prospect Pasquale Zito led everyone with four points. However, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the visitors.

Late in the game, goaltender Xavier Medina made an awkward save and seemed uncomfortable afterward. While he stayed in the game, it was later determined he had a lower-body injury. His status is currently unknown.

Xavier Medina, Windsor Spitfires
Windsor Spitfires’ goaltender Xavier Medina. (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

With Medina injured, the Spitfires started rookie Kyle Downey on Saturday when the high-octane Greyhounds came to town. The club called up former Under-18 Draft pick Matt Tovell from LaSalle Jr. B to back him up. The game also marked the 200th OHL contest for 20-year-old Daniel D’Amico. Unfortunately, the visitors ruined the celebration.

The Spitfires took an early 1-0 lead when rookie James Jodoin scored his first OHL goal. However, the club got into penalty trouble, giving the top power-play team (34-percent) five-straight advantages. The visitors capitalized three times, and added a 5-on-5 marker, for a 4-1 lead late in the game. While Jodoin and Zito added singles late, the home side took the 4-3 loss.

Despite the split, the Spitfires now sit seventh in the conference, though are just two points back of the fourth seed.

Chaotic Stretch Approaches for the Spitfires

The two-game weekend ends a relatively quiet period for the Spitfires, who now enter one of the busiest stretches of the season.

On Thursday, they start a stretch of six games in 10 days by welcoming the Erie Otters to town. Just two weeks ago, the teams battled into overtime where Dallas Stars’ prospect Wyatt Johnston scored to give the Spitfires a 3-2 win. The team will also host another 75th Anniversary Night where they will raise the banner of former goaltender Glenn Hall (1949-51) and have a Hockey Hall of Fame display that includes several trophies.

That’s followed by a home-and-home against New York Rangers’ prospect Brennan Othmann and the Flint Firebirds – Saturday night in Michigan and Sunday at 4:05 PM at the WFCU Centre. The Firebirds are just two points back with two games-in-hand. After the Spitfires’ 6-2 win in Michigan two weeks ago, the Firebirds will want revenge.

Related: Rangers Continue to Stockpile Forwards with Othmann Pick

The rest of that six-game/10-day stretch features the London Knights and a home-and-home with the Saginaw Spirit. We’ll go more in-depth with that next week.

Spitfires Depth Questions Linger

As the club approaches this busy stretch, there’s plenty they need to focus on beyond the score-sheet.

Medina’s injury, whether it keeps him out for a weekend or longer, is one of a few the Spitfires have had this season. Zito was out for a bit after a hit against the Firebirds while 18-year-old Oliver Peer has been out since Oct. 23. While he’s expected back soon, the injuries have forced Savard to play mix-and-match with the lines, even if that means putting defencemen upfront.

So far, three defencemen – Jodoin, Bronson Ride, and Michael Renwick – have all been listed as forwards at some point. While they may have played upfront in previous seasons, having one (or more) defencemen at forward in any game falls on both Savard and Bowler. The club came into the season with 13 forwards, including Jean-Luc Foudy (who’s been in the AHL). They also have eight defencemen, all of whom play regularly. It’s a strange recipe, especially when their Junior B affiliate, the LaSalle Vipers, are a 25-minute drive from the WFCU Centre.

Windsor Spitfires' GM Bill Bowler
Windsor Spitfires’ general manager Bill Bowler. (Dave Jewell/THW)

There were multiple forwards that the Spitfires cut late in training camp, including 2021 picks Ethan Martin (Stratford Jr. B) and Jack Greenwell (LaSalle). Unless Bowler has reasons or tricks up his sleeve, the optics are strange and it’s a bit of a head-scratcher. There are two months until the trade deadline and it’s unrealistic to expect the eight defenceman/10 forward system to be successful over the long term. Bowler and Savard need to come up with a plan to get better depth before more issues arise.

Puck drop on Thursday is 7:30 PM while Sunday is 4:05 PM

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